In 2005, Chris Kleinberg toured with the Philly-based indie band mewithoutYou. But, secretly, he preferred fixing the tour bus to playing the shows. “I wanted to quit the band awhile ago, but then the bus was so much fun to work on — powering it with vegetable oil and building things inside it,” he says.
The experience led Kleinberg to seek bigger, more involved projects. In 2006 after he quit the band, he and his wife, Nikki, purchased a 10,000-square-foot property in North Philadelphia. It was a project that would quickly redefine their concepts of family and community. Inspired by religious communities like the Bruderhof (located in the U.K., Germany and United States) and JPUSA (Chicago), and a growing trend of cohousing in urban centers, the Kleinbergs sought to create a sustainable co-op, where shared living expenses would make it possible for residents to further their education or artistic craft. “We were able to do the bulk of the building on the complex between 2006 and 2008,” says Kleinberg, who is currently pursuing a medical degree at Temple University. “Touring was perfect for that. I’d be gone for a month, and then come back and have no commitments for another month, plus the money I made. It was a rare combination of time and money.”
But unlike the communities that inspired them, Cambria House has no religious doctrine and, actually, very few rules of any sort. “When we tried to come up with a mission statement, Bob Marley’s line, ‘Let’s get together and feel alright,” was the only thing we could all agree on,” says Kleinberg with a laugh. “Other communities I talk to get bogged down in rules. They have an ideal that they stick to. And it seems like the ideal is more important than the actual people living there.”